August 20, 2015

Kosmos 954 (Космос 954) / Operation Morning Light I & II

Exact image source unknown / US Government
"Kosmos 954 (Russian: Космос 954) was a reconnaissance satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1977. A malfunction prevented safe separation of its onboard nuclear reactor; when the satellite reentered the Earth's atmosphere the following year, it scattered radioactive debris over northern Canada, prompting an extensive cleanup operation." - Wikipedia
Plagiarism?  Nah, why make things complicated?  Wikipedia does a pretty good job summarizing the issue.

Someone graciously asked DND for all the information they had on the crash of Kosmos 954 in an access to information request (A-2013-00731); so I asked for a copy too.  There are already books on the January 24th 1978 accident, but I'm looking through the file to try and figure out some information for myself; specifically, how much fuel didn't burn up, and how much radioactive material was left on the ground after Operation Morning Light I and II.  Here is the information for your review.


  1. In the summer of 1979 while part of a mineral exploration program operating in the Aberdeen Lake area which is near Baker Lake and on line with the debris path of 954 our geophysical survey helicopter found a small very high count radioactive anomaly. I and two others were sent to the site to see if we could determine the source, usually rocks with radioactive minerals. This anomaly turned out to be in a larger muskeg covered area and using handheld spectrometers we soon located a very small area with a very high count. We dug up the frozen muskeg at that location and eventually ended up with a football sized junk of frozen muskeg which contained the radioactive material. It was placed in a plastic sample bag and allowed to thaw, in the end there was a fair amount of water, a bit of dirt and mostly muskeg vegetation. Somewhere in the handling of the sample the radioactive material was lost. We never bothered to look for it having figured out that it was most likely a very small particle from 954's reactor fuel.

    1. Great story! I wonder how much of 954's fuel ended up at the bottom of the lakes and muskeg up there...